Buta Films company www.butafilms.ru was founded 10 years ago by producer Maria Ivanova, Moscow State University graduate (faculty of journalism). Over this decade, more than 100 projects have been released: fiction features and shorts, documentary and TV movies. The first fiction short, ‘The Last One’, about the last living World War II veteran, was in the official 67th Cannes festival selection, becoming one of 9 best shorts in the world. ‘Buta Films’ works with all major TV channels in Russia: First Channel, Russia K, Fifth channel in Saint Petersburg. The company has several TEFI nominations (the biggest TV awards in Russia), and also the state award Strana [Country] for Best Documentary. In 2015, the company organized the 100-day culture and arts festival in London. In 2016, ‘Buta Films’ held a screening of best Russian short films at the USEK university in Lebanon.
- Lebanon isn’t the most popular holiday destination of the Russians, and people don’t really know anything about the country. How did you get there?
We stopped in Lebanon on our way to Syria, when out team went there to make a documentary film about the refugees for Russia’s First Channel. By my second day here I knew – it’s my place, my country, where everything seemed close and dear. And the beauty isn’t the only point here. The main treasure in Lebanon is not its sea or sun, or amazing historical monuments – it is its people. I have never seen such unique friendliness, such readiness to help. The Lebanese people are incredible. Sometimes it feels like everyone is Russian here (laughs), it is so easy to communicate with people here. Also, a special thanks for help and support to Aleksandr Sergeevich Zasypkin, the Russian Ambassador in Lebanon, to Hairat Ahmetov, the Director of Russian center of science and culture in Beirut and to Svetlana Safa, Event and PR coordinator.
- Why did you decide that ‘The Crew’ needs to be shown in Lebanon? Do you think this film will be in demand here?
Russian films have never been distributed in Lebanon, can you imagine? The Lebanese viewers have no idea what our cinema is about, and I think it’s wrong. We have a lot in common with the Lebanese people, and I’m sure they will like and understand the Russian cinema. It became clear when we held a screening of best Russian shorts in April. We showed ‘The Last One’ produced by our studio. This film was in the 67th Cannes festival selection. Also, we screened ‘Salamanca’, which has become one of the key events in documentary cinema last year. We saw the Lebanese audience’s reaction, received deep and intelligent questions during the master-classes. It’s obvious that the Russian cinema will be in demand in Lebanon.
I first saw ‘The Crew’ at its Moscow premiere, and understood straightaway that this film should be shown in Lebanon and in the Middle East in general. ‘The Crew’ is a unique story, which can be understood by everyone, regardless of their nationality. It’s a story about an act of bravery and love, about courage and self-sacrifice. These issues strike a cord with the people in the Middle East. This film deserves to be seen by a widest audience.
- What brought about your relations with the Empire Cinemas company?
Empire Cinemas is the largest and oldest distribution company in Lebanon, also working in the Middle East in general. We’re working with the company on the first festival of the Russian cinema in Lebanon, set to take place at the end of October in Beirut. At the same time, we offered Empire Cinemas to collaborate on the release of ‘The Crew’. We organized a meeting of the Empire Cinemas CEO Mario Haddad with the CEO of Central Partnership (Gazprom Media holding) Pavel Stepanov in the framework of the latest Cannes festival. Also, we shared with our Lebanese partners the impressive Russian distribution figures of ‘The Crew’, and they commented on the promising commerical potential of the film, agreeing to become the distributors of ‘The Crew’ in the Middle East. After the test screening in Beirut Mario Haddad expressed his interest in the Russian cinema, and he considers the distribution of ‘The Crew’ to be the first step in the long-term collaboration with the Russian distribution companies.
- Are your projects supported by the Russian state institutions?
Certainly. Representatives of the Russian embassy in Lebanon, as well as Rossotrudnichestvo [The Federal Agency for the Commonwealth of Independent States, Compatriots Living Abroad, and International Humanitarian Cooperation] in Lebanon, were at the test screening. And they consider it very important to support the distribution of ‘The Crew’, also due to the fact that 2016 has been declared the Year of Cinema in Russia.
- How will the distribution of ‘The Crew’ be organized in the Middle East? When and where will the premiere take place?
The film will be shown in almost every country in the Middle East: the UAE, Lebanon, Kuwait, Bahrain, Jordan, Oman, Qatar, and Iraq. Also, the Egyptian audience will have the opportunity to see the film. We are planning to attract hundreds of thousands of viewers. ‘The Crew’ will be shown in Russian, with English and Arabic subtitles.
- What other projects are you planning in the region? Will you stay in Lebanon after the distribution of ‘The Crew’?
Sure. I’ve mentioned the first festival of the Russian cinema in Beirut, and we’re currently working on it. The event will take place on October 24-28, 2016. We’re bringing to Lebanon 10 best Russian films, made over the past 5 years. Hence, the festival’s slogan: ‘5 years in 5 days’. Apart from fiction features, we’ll show the best shorts, documentary and animation films. Also, we’re planning to organize master-classes and round tables with the participation of key Russian filmmakers. Last but not least, a business program will be held in the framework of the festival, it’s called ‘Culture + Business’. The main media partner will be ‘RT Arabic’ TV channel and website. The festival has already got support from the Russian embassy in Lebanon, key Lebanon company OMT, and Lebanese-Russian Business Council. Do come!